Christmas tree shortage: Supply chain backlog could mean slim pickings this holiday season

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, will I have a hard time finding thee? The answer to that question is maybe, also, you might be paying a tad more this year than in past years and it’s due to - you’ve guessed it - the supply chain backlog. 

Getting an artificial Christmas tree could prove difficult for consumers this year. 

Mac Harman, CEO of Balsam Hill in California, an artificial Christmas tree retailer, said it all goes back to supply chain bottlenecks and inflation. 

"Our competition, our big box stores, they were behind in getting their goods in for back-to-school, they were behind on Halloween, so when they got to Christmas trees, they said, ‘Christmas trees are big, they’re bulky, they’re low-value for what we can get in a container.’ They left some of their trees in Asia. They’ll bring them all over next Christmas, that’s the wonderful thing about artificial trees is they last a long time, but there are fewer trees coming to the market this year so there will be fewer trees available, and assuming normal levels of demand, we are going to see a bit of a shortage," Harman said. 

As for real trees, Harman said it’s a 50/50 split. 

f355c6dd-Christmas trees

FILE -Christmas trees in a display room. (JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

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"On the real tree side, will there be a shortage? Honestly, I’m hearing both sides of that story. There have definitely been some crops lost this year but those are mostly young crops so that’s going to impact things in six or eight years when those trees would have been bigger," Harman continued. 

However, considering inflation, Harman said the price increase for both real and artificial trees will absolutely impact consumers in some way this holiday season. 

"There’s going to be higher prices this year on both the artificial side and the real side. Artificial side because ocean freight has gone up, on the real side, because gas prices have gone up. Trees generally come from pretty far away. If you go to your local cut-your-own lot, maybe the prices haven’t changed but if you’re getting a tree at Home Depot or wherever, they’re trucking it is going to cost more to come in this year from Oregon or North Carolina, or wherever those trees are grown," Harman said. 

A 2021 United States Department of Agriculture report found that live trees have nearly doubled in price since 2015 and artificial tree prices have gone up 20-30% this year, according to the American Christmas Tree Association. 

"Yes, the prices are going up around 20-30%, and no it hasn't happened in the past. The cost of cargo has gone up 7-8 times this year compared to the same time last year," Sol Lakein, chief brand officer for King of Christmas, told FOX TV Stations. "Our prices are very competitive and we are raising the cost just to cover the cost of cargo." 

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Not only has the price of Christmas trees increased but the price of ornaments and other Christmas decorations has gone up as well. 

"The cost of production has gone up so the lower-priced items are getting hit as well," Lakein said. "Both (lights and ornaments), when you include the higher cost of goods and cargo it becomes cost-prohibitive to bring in mass quantities." 

And while there may not be a shortage of Christmas lights to adorn your home or Christmas tree, consumers may feel the squeeze on other decorative items such as tree skirts, tree toppers and ornaments. 

"On the ornaments, tree skirts, tree toppers, all those kinds of decorations, it’s definitely a challenge this year," Harman said. "In our (Balsam Hill) case, we have items in categories that haven’t even arrived yet and normally we would have sold 30% of our stock by now. So we’re seeing big disruptions in the holiday decor space and it’s just hit or miss. What has come in, what hasn’t," Harman explained. 

For people who may have holiday parties or are early decorators, this year may not be the best year to get that accomplished according to Harman. 

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However, that does not mean people cannot partake in holiday-decorating festivities, they just might need to wait a few weeks into December before actually getting their hands on certain decorations, Harman said. 

"If you have a big Christmas party the first weekend in December, it might be slim pickings on certain decor items that are out there," Harman added. 

And as for those who are looking for a new Christmas tree this year, it is not doom and gloom but you might want to head out no later than Thanksgiving weekend if you want a solid selection of Christmas trees — artificial or real. 

"I think you’re going to be fine this year shopping for Christmas items. Again, you might not have exactly the biggest selection that you might have in other years but it’s still a great year to buy," Harman said. 

In fact, according to Harman, buying a tree this year, whether it's your first or you are in need of a new one, is the best year to buy because the cost of Christmas trees will go up come 2022. 

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"All of us in the industry, we’ve all ordered product for Christmas ’22 already. I know that’s hard to believe. It’s more than a year in advance. We already ordered it and we’re seeing cost increases that are double-digit percentages," Harman continued. 

When it comes to buying a Christmas tree, for first-timers or you’re just ready for a change, artificial trees are a great investment only because they last longer, at least up to eight years, according to Harman. 

And when buying an artificial tree, always consider the height to include a Christmas tree topper and while more svelte trees are nice to look at, they might not look great once it’s inside your living room or wherever your tree will stand, Harman said. 

"Some trees that are good deals are really skinny and then you put them in your space and you’re like, ‘Ugh, it’s kind of like this svelte tree, that doesn’t really look good,’" Harman added. 

Some things buyers should keep in mind when purchasing an artificial tree is how realistic does it look and the light count, according to Harman. 

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A traditional height and the most common is a 7 1/2-foot tree, according to Harman. And for a tree that height, a buyer should hope to have at least 750 lights in that artificial tree. 

"A good rule of thumb for lights is you want to have about 100 lights per foot," Harman said. 

As for real trees, Harman said to consider your timing. 

"Go out Thanksgiving weekend or the first weekend in December because if you go too much earlier, you’re going to bring the tree in your house, it’s going to get warm, the needles are going to fall off, and by Christmas Day it’s going to look terrible and it’s probably going to smell bad," Harman explained. 

And when you are out shopping for a real tree, before you purchase it, give it a good shake. 

"When you’re looking at a real tree, shake it. You want to get those needles off at the tree lot and if an awful lot of needles falls off, that means the tree has probably been cut weeks and weeks before, but if a lot of needles fall off it’s probably been stored in a warm environment and that means when it gets into your house, it’s not going to last very long," Harman said.